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How Does Unsplash Make Money? The Unsplash Business Model In A Nutshell

Unsplash is a Canadian stock photography platform founded by Mikael Cho in 2013, as he was unable to source high-quality stock images for his freelance website Crew, he got the idea to create a platform where others could freely download stocked images. Advertising is the sole source of revenue for Unsplash. Some of the companies utilizing this service include Google, Le Creuset, Square, and Harley-Davidson.

Origin Story

Unsplash is a Canadian stock photography platform founded by Mikael Cho in 2013.

The idea for Unsplash came about after Cho was unable to source high-quality stock images for his freelance website Crew. After hiring a photographer, Cho posted the unwanted photos from the photoshoot online and invited others to use them as desired. The platform – at the time a humble Tumblr blog – saw 50,000 views on its first day of operation.

Unsplash then moved to its own website in September 2014 after surpassing 1 million downloads per month. The company partnered with Apple to furnish Apple stores with images sourced directly from Unsplash galleries. An API launched soon after, allowing third-party app developers like Trello to incorporate Unsplash images.

Crew was eventually sold to Dribble in 2017, giving Cho the funds and time to focus solely on Unsplash. An iOS app was released soon after.

In July 2020, Unsplash hit 2 million contributions from 200,000 global contributors. The platform now employs a team of editors and curators to sift through the large volume of photo submissions.

Unsplash was acquired by Getty Images for an undisclosed sum in March 2021. Operations will continue as a standalone brand with Cho at the helm.

Unsplash revenue generation

Advertising is the sole source of revenue for Unsplash. Some of the companies utilizing this service include Google, Le Creuset, Square, and Harley-Davidson.

Through its Unsplash for Brands feature, companies can advertise on the platform and take advantage of the viral nature of online imagery. The company claims its images are downloaded more than the similar services of Getty Images, Shutterstock, and Adobe combined.

Unsplash stipulates that ads on its platform must be contextual and add value to the user experience. Ads are shown on related photo category pages or the advertiser can upload their own images and have them appear under relevant search terms. Brands choosing the latter option tap into a powerful form of advertising, as images are downloaded and repurposed in blog reposts, reports, or presentations.

In addition to collecting advertising revenue, Unsplash will also create authentic, high-quality imagery for each advertising campaign. Boxed Water is an example of a company that commissioned Unsplash photographers to create product photos in fun and engaging contexts.

At the time of writing, Unsplash for Brands is invite-only.

Key takeaways:

  • Unsplash is a Canadian stock photography platform founded in 2013 by Mikael Cho. He got the idea for the company after having difficulty sourcing high-quality photographs for his freelancer website Crew.
  • Unsplash earns revenue through contextual and organic advertising. It has worked with brands such as Harley-Davidson, Le Creuset, and Google. The company also charges companies if they require high-quality images for an advertising campaign.
  • Unsplash claims its advertising platform is five times more effective than TV and digital media. Brands may choose to advertise by uploading their own photographs, which are then shared across the internet.

Read Also: How Does Canva Make Money, How Does Pinterest Work And Make Money, How Does Instacart Make Money.

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Related Business Model Types

Platform Business Model

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A platform business model generates value by enabling interactions between people, groups, and users by leveraging network effects. Platform business models usually comprise two sides: supply and demand. Kicking off the interactions between those two sides is one of the crucial elements for a platform business model success.

Marketplace Business Model

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A marketplace is a platform where buyers and sellers interact and transact. The platform acts as a marketplace that will generate revenues in fees from one or all the parties involved in the transaction. Usually, marketplaces can be classified in several ways, like those selling services vs. products or those connecting buyers and sellers at B2B, B2C, or C2C level. And those marketplaces connecting two core players, or more.

Network Effects

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A network effect is a phenomenon in which as more people or users join a platform, the more the value of the service offered by the platform improves for those joining afterward.

Asymmetric Business Models

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In an asymmetric business model, the organization doesn’t monetize the user directly, but it leverages the data users provide coupled with technology, thus have a key customer pay to sustain the core asset. For example, Google makes money by leveraging users’ data, combined with its algorithms sold to advertisers for visibility.

Attention Merchant Business Model

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In an asymmetric business model, the organization doesn’t monetize the user directly, but it leverages the data users provide coupled with technology, thus having a key customer pay to sustain the core asset. For example, Google makes money by leveraging users’ data, combined with its algorithms sold to advertisers for visibility. This is how attention merchants make monetize their business models.

Wholesale Business Model

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The wholesale model is a selling model where wholesalers sell their products in bulk to a retailer at a discounted price. The retailer then on-sells the products to consumers at a higher price. In the wholesale model, a wholesaler sells products in bulk to retail outlets for onward sale. Occasionally, the wholesaler sells direct to the consumer, with supermarket giant Costco the most obvious example.

Retail Business Model

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A retail business model follows a direct-to-consumer approach, also called B2C, where the company sells directly to final customers a processed/finished product. This implies a business model that is mostly local-based, it carries higher margins, but also higher costs and distribution risks.

B2B2C

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A B2B2C is a particular kind of business model where a company, rather than accessing the consumer market directly, it does that via another business. Yet the final consumers will recognize the brand or the service provided by the B2B2C. The company offering the service might gain direct access to consumers over time.

Crowdsourcing Business Model

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The term “crowdsourcing” was first coined by Wired Magazine editor Jeff Howe in a 2006 article titled Rise of Crowdsourcing. Though the practice has existed in some form or another for centuries, it rose to prominence when eCommerce, social media, and smartphone culture began to emerge. Crowdsourcing is the act of obtaining knowledge, goods, services, or opinions from a group of people. These people submit information via social media, smartphone apps, or dedicated crowdsourcing platforms.

Open-Core Business Model

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While the term has been coined by Andrew Lampitt, open-core is an evolution of open-source. Where a core part of the software/platform is offered for free, while on top of it are built premium features or add-ons, which get monetized by the corporation who developed the software/platform. An example of the GitLab open core model, where the hosted service is free and open, while the software is closed.

Open Source vs. Freemium

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Open source is licensed and usually developed and maintained by a community of independent developers. While the freemium is developed in-house. Thus the freemium give the company that developed it, full control over its distribution. In an open-source model, the for-profit company has to distribute its premium version per its open-source licensing model.

Freemium Business Model

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The freemium – unless the whole organization is aligned around it – is a growth strategy rather than a business model. A free service is provided to a majority of users, while a small percentage of those users convert into paying customers through the sales funnel. Free users will help spread the brand through word of mouth.

Freeterprise Business Model

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A freeterprise is a combination of free and enterprise where free professional accounts are driven into the funnel through the free product. As the opportunity is identified the company assigns the free account to a salesperson within the organization (inside sales or fields sales) to convert that into a B2B/enterprise account.

Franchising Business Model

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In a franchained business model (a short-term chain, long-term franchise) model, the company deliberately launched its operations by keeping tight ownership on the main assets, while those are established, thus choosing a chain model. Once operations are running and established, the company divests its ownership and opts instead for a franchising model.

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